Call me old-fashioned, but I love listening to the radio when I’m in the car. I know most people these days just connect their smartphone and press play, but there’s just something about the suspense of not knowing what song is coming next and totally jamming out (and totally embarrassing my family) when it just happens to be my favorite song.
One of the downsides to this form of media is that sometimes you have to wait a whole three or even four minutes to find out the details on a particular song – what it’s called and who sings it. And sometimes the station already gave that information at the beginning of the song and then you’re completely out of luck!
Being the information junkie that I am, this leaves me in quite a pickle. I love listening to the radio, but I also must know right now who sings that song. I might never do anything with that information, but I need to know. Now.
So, lucky for me, there’s an app for that!
“Shazam” is one of my favorite apps. If you aren’t familiar with it, you simply open the app, push a button, and it “listens” to the song that is playing in the background. Then, within a few seconds – Shazam! – it recognizes the song and returns the details you’re looking for straight to your phone’s screen. Genius!
Now, if only there was an app like that for listening to God.
As followers of Jesus, we absolutely want to hear what God has to say – about our lives, about His plans for us, about anything and everything! But since most of us will never audibly hear His voice, that means we have to learn to listen for it in other ways. Sometimes He speaks to us through His Word. Sometimes it’s through another person. Sometimes it’s through a set of circumstances. And sometimes He just speaks through our thoughts.
If you’re like me, this often leaves you in a pickle. How do I know if what I think I’m hearing is really from God? What if it’s just me? What if it’s just someone else’s ideas getting in my head? What if I’m just over-analyzing my circumstances? Wouldn’t it be so cool to just be able to open an app, press a button, and within seconds know the author of those thoughts? That would be genius.
The truth is that although it may seem easy, the Shazam app is actually doing some pretty intense and complicated work in those few seconds.
First of all, on a server somewhere is a database of billions of songs the creators of the app have compiled. Then, when you hit the button, the app records a sample of the song and compares it with that massive database to find a match. It’s not a foolproof system (it doesn’t seem to recognize the “Mommy, she’s looking at me!” or “Hey! She’s wearing my shirt!” that often gets added to the song from the backseat of my car), but it works most of the time.
Learning to listen to the voice of God also takes some effort on our part.
In John 10, Jesus compares His followers to sheep and Himself to their shepherd. He says, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:4-5)
In order to know and recognize God’s voice and distinguish it from all the other voices we hear on a daily basis, we need to do a few things:
First, we need to compile our database. God will never say anything to us that doesn’t line up with His words found in the Bible. So, depending on the version you read, that’s approximately 750,000 words to add to your knowledge base! Yeah, that’s a lot to know, but the more you read, study, memorize and meditate on any of those words – the greater your chances of making a match are!
Second, we may need to minimize the background noise. Although I can easily “SHHHHH!” the voices in my car, shushing the voices of the world around me isn’t so easy. It takes discipline. For me, it means saying “No” to the distractions of my phone and other technology. It means putting it down during those times of the day when I’m most tempted to pick it up. I’m not a fan of silence, but the quieter I am, the louder and clearer I’ll hear God’s voice.
One of the biggest reasons most people I know choose smartphone music over the radio is the lack of new material and repetition of the same old songs, especially on Christian music stations. Seriously, there are days when I am in my car three times and hear the same song all three times!
We all want to hear from God, but chances are, we actually are hearing from Him more than we realize. The problem is that He’s saying the same stuff He’s been saying to us for many weeks, months, or years – we just don’t want to hear it.
We want to hear something profound and inspirational – and He’s like, “Love your neighbor.” We want to know what His plans are for our future – and He’s like, “Forgive that person who hurt you.” We want to know how we’re doing or what we could be doing better – and He’s like, “I love you.”
It’s not rocket – or smartphone application development – science, but listening to God does take some effort on our part. And the more we pay attention to those things we know for sure He is saying, the more likely we’ll be to recognize and distinguish the others.
There are several artists I never need to “Shazam” (even if they come out with a new song), because I just know their voices so well after all these years. And I hope that eventually my need for a God’s-Voice-Recognition app will fade as well. It may take some effort, and I’m sure it’s not entirely foolproof, but God is speaking and I want to listen.